The 3D Virtual Office Of The Future Is Here, And It's Not Going To Help Get People Back To A Conventional One

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With companies increasingly moving to hybrid work schedules or giving up on employees coming back altogether, office vacancy rates continue to rise exponentially across the country. 

Researchers at New York and Columbia universities report that the return to the office may actually “plateau” at 50% occupancy. Even more dour is their prediction that the city’s offices will lose 44% of their pre-pandemic value by 2029. One man with an office tucked a few hours north of New York is unconcerned. When he looks out of his office window, he sees Hawaii, California or any other environment that makes him smile when he goes to work. 

Erik Braund is not suffering from geographic delusion; he believes he’s found a solution for those who don’t want to return to the office and an alternative for companies that have gone to a hybrid work schedule. He’s the founder and CEO of Katmai Tech Inc., a 3D online office environment that the company promotes as “bringing the shared in-office experience to the remote workflow. A place for people to gather, to spontaneously connect, to co-work, to feel like a team.”

Benzinga interviewed Braund and other staff members inside his virtual Hawaiian office confines with palm trees swinging outside the window and conference rooms busy with virtual employees. For $15 a month per employee, any company can custom build or access a previously designed locale and choose their neighborhood or interior design. Think Zoom with the ability to get up during a meeting and virtually travel to another room or go on the deck. And there are no glasses or headsets needed. You can virtually meet inside a conference room, in the kitchen or on a patio.  One of the advantages for companies with global offices is that no matter the time of day, the office is always open.

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Katmai has $22 million in funding and dozens of tenants who have signed up for a custom 3D virtual office space. Braund says he looks at Katmai as a way to move through the internet and not just another way to swipe and scroll. He is also optimistic about how his technology could solve the issues of a lack of business community caused by remote work. 

“The main idea is for office visibility and proximity. We have people from across the world in our offices. We’re not punching a time card, and this is a tool they use to get together. People from Alaska to the Netherlands can use the space even with a 10-hour time span difference,” Braund said. 

Braund is far from your basic tech geek. With a background in audio/video, Braund came up with the idea for Katmai after a meeting he had three years ago with Gerard Krol. “We were self-funded for the first few years when it wasn’t about the office but about tech. Then we thought, why don’t we find a way to be in the tech while we work on the tech and have a sound zone where we work alone and get together when we need to? It then became pretty obvious that our first project should be the virtual office,” he said. 

With office vacancies across the country skyrocketing, Braund says he doesn’t believe that presenting an alternative for employees returning to the office makes him a competitor. 

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“We want to work with office and business owners. We have a successful partnership currently with several commercial real estate companies. We’re not an enemy,” he said. “But we don’t have structural engineering needs, contractors, building codes and zoning to deal with either.” 

And Braund’s view of the future for his startup? “Katmai is a technology. Today it’s our first product. Long term, it's a platform.”  

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